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New Report Finds Exercise of Freedom in Former USSR Can Be Risky

Amnesty International in Moscow is highlighting the abuse of human rights in Russia and other former Soviet republics as part of the organization's effort to improve basic freedoms worldwide. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky attended a news conference in the Russian capital, where Amnesty officials expressed concern about the repression of basic freedoms in many former Soviet Republics.

The Moscow branch of Amnesty International says journalists who write about politically sensitive subjects in Azerbaijan risk being harassed and punished.

The human rights organization says demonstrating on the streets of Belarus or Russia can get a protester beaten up and jailed.

In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, virtually anything not sanctioned by the state - from speaking freely to worshiping freely - can get an individual into serious trouble. Amnesty also reports that prisoners in Moldova and Ukraine are frequent targets of torture by their jailors.

Amnesty International's European and Central Asian Programs Director Nicole Duckworth notes that Russia aspires to global leadership. But she adds in order to be credible Moscow cannot ignore the values and principles of the international community and the promises it makes on human rights.

"Increasingly confident on the global stage, at home Russia has repressed political criticism, pressured independent journalists, and weighed down non-governmental organizations with burdensome reporting restrictions," said Duckworth.

Duckworth adds that criticism in Russia is seen as unpatriotic, and human rights violators go unpunished.

Another representative of Amnesty's Moscow office, researcher Friederike Behr, says the problem of impunity for human rights violations is particularly acute in the Caucasus.

Behr says that since 2007, the number of human rights abuses in Chechnya has fallen. But those who committed them, particularly representatives of security services, remain unpunished.

The Amnesty researcher says that to this day, the last and only hope for victims of human rights abuse in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria remains the European Court of Human Rights.

Amnesty International's Moscow office says 2008 represents an unprecedented opportunity to break what it calls a list of broken human rights commitments by world leaders. The reason says Nicole Duckworth, is that two of the world's most powerful countries, Russia and the United States, have or will elect new leaders this year.

Amnesty is calling for recently inaugurated Russian president Dmitri Medvedev to act on his promise to uphold human rights in Russia.

Duckworth says hopes are also being placed on a new American leader to once again uphold global standards for government behavior that Amnesty says were tarnished in recent years by alleged U.S. mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and the Bush administration's controversial position on torture.

Duckworth says Amnesty International exists to help provide a voice for individual citizens who are victimized by intolerant governments. She adds that individuals can also count on the support of the organization's two million members worldwide.